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Rare to hear the sound of the future any more ... the sound of the very young

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Who is the little toddler in the picture dressed in white, imploring — no demanding — for his momma to let him go? “Please, momma!” Is he the same one taking charge of the transportation pool where all of the high-end baby carriages were parked?

Back then we did not even have enough schools to house us all, so a major building boom to build the necessary infrastructure was also under way by this time, including at Mount Saint Agnes where I would go on to attend as a good Catholic boy at age 6 —becoming the first male of African descent to enrol in a White-dominated private school in 1963, as I have previously highlighted. In fact, at that time the only White-dominated, fully private school on island was MSA, as the other academies — schools such as Saltus, Warwick, Bermuda High School for Girls and Whitney Institute — were all government-aided schools just like the Berkeley Institute and drew on the government purse.

The 1960s at Spanish Point
The 1960s at Spanish Point
Rolfe Commissiong was the Progressive Labour Party MP for Pembroke South East (Constituency 21) between December 2012 and August 2020, and the former chairman of the joint select committee considering the establishment of a living wage

I had a reminder of my time at MSA only recently by way of a story and picture of Sharon Davis-Murdoch, who was the legendary E.F. Gordon’s granddaughter and who would join me at MSA a couple of years later. By that time, a small but growing number of Black students were enrolled at the school as we moved into the middle and late 1960s. I am really proud of her, as she just received the Order of Canada for her racial-justice work. In the article, she would fearlessly go on to say “that Canada’s reality of anti-Black racism, and its history of enslavement and segregation, is ingrained in the current systems”.

But back to the neighbourhood: contrast the above to today where our community is now rapidly ageing and firmly in a demographic winter according to the demographers. Fertility rates and, of course, birthrates within the Bermuda community and even more so in the Black community have been falling for decades and are now underwater; well below the replacement level of 2.1 per couple. Where the median age of a Bermudian is about 45 years and at least 20 per cent of the population is 65 years of age and above. And in response to that trend historically Black-dominated public schools are being shuttered, echoing nothing more now than the sound of silence in their deserted hallways.

The children’s laughter and the sound of play resonated throughout our neighbourhoods constantly back then. Hell, one could choose and refuse one’s playmates, as there were so many of them in each neighbourhood. We were literally spoilt for choice. Today in most communities it is rare to hear the sound of the future any more ... the sound of the very young.

And what a neighbourhood we had just across from Admiralty House. It was there amid a cluster of about 15 households you found yourself in the company of legends such as Edward “Bosun” Swainson, the first player to score a century in Cup Match while representing my team, St George’s. Three to four houses west of his house, one could find the greatest captain in Cup Match history in Calvin “Bummy” Symonds. To the south of Bummy’s house was Everard Davis, one of the pioneers at new station ZFB/Capital Broadcasting, which was about to take off. Of course, my father was leader of the Esso Steel Band, one of the greatest show bands in Bermuda’s golden era of tourism. On any day, one could hear he and his band members making the steel pans out of oil drums. Their hammering and tuning of the drums could be heard resonating over the hills and valleys.

I still remember Mr Swainson taking me and his grandson, Blaine Robinson, to primary school in that sharp Morris Minor convertible, as we soaked up the envy from our peers at school. I also will never forget holding Mr Swainson’s cricket bat in his garage; the holy grail in my hand, the same bat that he used to score that first century as a young cricketer.

There was a lot of love in that neighbourhood, along with freshly baked bread two or three times a week, and its aroma summoned us kids to the respective houses where the baking was taking place in order to get our share.

Those pictures represent a somewhat quintessential Bermuda summer day; perhaps with us dressed to the nines with fresh haircuts to match. Our Bermudian mothers would have it no other way. Ah, the good life.

Walton Brown’s oldest sister, Deanna, was there as well. See if you can identify any of the kids in the accompanying pictures.

The year 2022 will present significant challenges for Bermuda. Against the backdrop of the precipitous decline in birthrates, leading to an even more rapidly ageing population, we will face an utterly precarious fiscal status as it relates to government finances owing to a near two-year Covid pandemic. With the likely imposition of a raise in interest rates spurred by the United States Federal Reserve in large part because of global inflationary pressures, it will mean that the era of low borrowing costs, as in interest rates, will be likely coming to an end.

Notwithstanding all of that, there is also the imposition of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s global minimum tax of 15 per cent to consider due in 2023 and its likely impact on our competitiveness to consider. Serious decisions on that likelihood and the plan to address it will have to be thought through now as well. Meanwhile, quietly yet steadily like a stream, Black Bermudians, our working poor, continue to migrate out of here to Britain as the ruinous cost of living goes on driven by increasing levels of income inequality, making it difficult for them to survive and thrive in the land of their birth.

But I do not believe that decline to be inevitable. It will require courageous action on the part of all of us to understand that the status quo is no longer sustainable. And at this point our leaders certainly are not getting it. Bermuda will require a transformative agenda, as the era that produced the existing political and economic models over five decades ago when those pictures were taken are no longer tenable except for an ever-shrinking minority,.

One last point about Simon Frazer: when the stats came in during the early 1980s confirming that birthrates (read Black) were in decline in Bermuda, a source very close to the United Bermuda Party government’s Cabinet said that it was like all of his multi-decade hard work to suppress Black population growth had been realised. He was so proud standing there before his political bosses and they showered him with the one thing that he wished for more than anything else: their approval of a job well done.

Rolfe Commissiong was the Progressive Labour Party MP for Pembroke South East (Constituency 21) between December 2012 and August 2020, and the former chairman of the joint select committee considering the establishment of a living wage

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Published January 25, 2022 at 8:00 am (Updated January 25, 2022 at 11:08 am)

Rare to hear the sound of the future any more ... the sound of the very young

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